Prosecutor Molins, steely face of Paris attacks probe

22nd November 2015, Comments 0 comments

Prosecutor Francois Molins, the steely public face of France's terror attacks investigations, has taken centre-stage in the sprawling probe into the carnage in Paris.

Molins' statements are couched in precise language, yet he has been preparing the French public for the worst for months, saying in May: "There is no reason to be optimistic."

That comment came after a foiled plot by an Algerian man to attack churches in the Paris region.

Within five months, France's worst fears had come true. Gunmen and suicide bombers slaughtered 130 people in the capital as they enjoyed a Friday night drink or meal out with friends, or watched a rock concert.

In France, it is the prosecutors and not the police who address the media on investigations, making the role of Paris prosecutor among the highest profile in the country.

Molins was swiftly on the scene at the worst of the Paris bloodshed, the Bataclan concert hall, to see for himself as elite police stormed the building. By the time the operation was over, the three attackers had killed 89 people inside.

His emotions rarely show through, but on that dreadful night, his voice faltered just a little, betraying the hideous events inside the building.

And the Paris investigation he is leading has not been without its errors.

On Wednesday, in the aftermath of a ferocious police assault on an apartment building in Saint-Denis where the presumed attacks ringleader Abdelhamid Abaaoud was killed, prosecutors announced that a woman had blown herself up.

But by Friday, the prosecutors were forced to admit they had got it wrong -- the woman, 26-year-old Hasna Aitboulahcen, was killed but it had been a man who was the suicide bomber.

- Minutely prepared -

Molins' precise statements are minutely prepared and designed to give journalists the information they demand without getting in the way of those who really count in probes, the investigators.

While French journalists are accustomed to his policy of refusing to answer questions, when his words could be less carefully controlled, media from other countries following the fast-moving events in Paris can find it frustrating.

Molins, 62, was named to his high-pressure role in 2011, four months before Mohamed Merah, a radicalised young man in the southern city of Toulouse, shot dead three Jewish schoolchildren, a teacher and three soldiers there and in nearby Montauban.

On March 12, 2012, in the hours before police stormed the apartment where heavily armed Merah was holed up, Molins addressed the media: "As long as we don't have anything credible, all leads will be investigated."

Conscious that Merah himself might have been listening and careful not to let him know he was the chief suspect, Molins said the probe would also include three soldiers with far-right beliefs.

He knew that was not true, but he did not want Merah to know it too.

On his watch, Molins has seen an ever increasing stream of radicalised men and women leaving France to fight alongside Islamic State in Syria. In fact, it is believed some of the Paris attackers had been to the war-torn country.

Until he was named to his current job, Molins did not have a reputation as an anti-terrorism specialist. A former prosecutor for the Bobigny district of Paris, he was a key official for two justice ministers.

When centre-right president Nicolas Sarkozy named him Paris prosecutor, his appointment was criticised by the left and his relationship with Socialist Justice Minister Christiane Taubira remains strained.

© 2015 AFP

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